Natasha and her two dogs, Jimmy and Mark, came to live with me on March 10th. They fled their home in Kharkiv, Ukraine about one week after the Russian invasion began on February 24th. Natasha speaks English fluently and is a freelance, 3-D animator who creates NFT’s. She has been able to do her work from my home as she settles into life here in Prague and begins the long process of finding a place of her own.
Today is Orthodox Easter and so Natasha got up early this morning to dye eggs and make this beautiful Easter feast for us to enjoy.
Rental prices in Prague have greatly increased while the available options of rental properties has decreased in recent months. This was already the trend but the problem has been exacerbated by the influx of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into the city. So, for the time being, Natasha will continue to be my guest. Thank you to my good friends back in the States who have pledged money to help Natasha get reestablished here. It takes a village and that’s no lie.
Thanks to all of my readers and I will keep you posted on Natasha’s progress and events here.
Dear Readers, it has been too long since my last update. The good news is that I have been extremely busy. The bad news is that there is a war on the European continent. It feels like it’s next door, but Ukraine is 700 miles away from Prague. The mood here is a combination of disbelief, anger, and horror. There have been numerous protests and an amazing rallying of support for the Ukrainian people- beginning with the Czech government issuing rapid visas, work permits, and offering free healthcare, to the Czech citizenry opening their homes, raising millions of dollars, and basically providing every possible resource you can imagine. Over 100,00 refugees have made it into Czechia so far and more are coming.
I too feel compelled to act. Although my flat is small, and I can only offer a sofa for a bed, I will be welcoming a young Ukrainian woman and her two chihuahuas into my home this evening! She is arriving by train after departing from a refugee camp in Lubaczow, Poland at 8:00 this morning. I don’t know much about her other than that her name is Natasha and she does freelance work as a 3D animator. She texts me that she brings only her dogs, a backpack and a bag. I don’t know anything about her family situation, but of course, there will be plenty of time to learn all of that. If she allows it, I will share her journey with you.
Until then- thanks for reading and as always, I love to hear from you.
As I write this, you, my North America readers, are just waking up on this Sunday, the last day of the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. I hope you enjoyed a time of joy, relaxation, and good food. It is snowing today, for the first time here in the city, although snow has already fallen in the mountains. That damn Virus is consuming the news again as numbers in Europe climb high once more. We are not in a “lockdown” but the closing of the Christmas markets around the city has put a major dent in everyone’s Christmas spirit. Nonetheless, I enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving feast at The Globe. https://globebookstore.cz
“Founded in 1993, the Globe Bookstore and Café is Prague’s first and best English language bookstore with a lively and trendy café…. The Globe Bookstore is expat Prague’s literary epicenter that provides a unique meeting place for artists, writers, students and travelers. ”
While I was enjoying all of this delicious food, my good friend, and fellow teacher, Sybil, was back home in South Carolina with her family for Thanksgiving. She shared these beautiful photos with me of autumn in the countryside near her hometown. So like North Carolina, they really resonate with my heart.
Well, like the Dan Fogelberg song says, the snow here has turned to rain. Time to work on some lesson plans for next week and have a Czech lesson, or maybe just a lazy Sunday afternoon nap. Whatever you do this day, make it pleasurable.
In September I made a visit to the American Embassy to collect one of the many documents necessary for my Živnostensky Visa- or long-term visa based on a trade license. This type of Visa is used by English teachers, IT specialists, or artists who usually work as freelancers. At the US Embassy, I signed a document swearing that I had committed no crimes in the US or the Czech Republic and paid $50 cash for a notarized piece of paper that served as my required criminal background check!
If only, everything was that easy! The Czech government has made the process so difficult in recent years that you need to hire a Visa Service to navigate for you. Besides a long list of other documents, you must have a notarized business address. My visa guru, Dave at Visa Force, is able to get a “virtual address” for you for a mere 1000 Czech crowns. You pay the money and don’t ask questions.
At present, I have my Trade License, and am awaiting an appointment at a Czech Embassy- one, outside the country. Yes, you read that correctly. Applicants must leave the Czech Republic and go to a Czech Embassy outside the country for their interview. I’m hoping Dave can get me one in Berlin, if not, then Vienna. It’s not likely that it will happen until late November, maybe December. My 90 day tourist visa ends October 31st.
Visa approval can take up to 12 weeks, so it’s possible that I will be living here 6 months before I have my Živno and am living here legally. Is it worth it you might ask? It’s true that the Czechs are known for their love of bureaucracy (even before Communism) and it is designed to discourage those who might consider living here as a passing fling. But I am determined to make it happen. I want the full of experience of getting to know this city and its people. To live and work here like a native.
It was a gorgeous day when I went to the US Embassy and I snapped this picture on my way there. I don’t know what the buildings are, but this is your typical view around almost every corner. And that’s worth a lot.
Voter suppression isn’t new. It’s been around since before Jim Crow Laws. It has taken on many shapes and sizes like poll taxes, literary tests, intimidation, and physical attacks. Laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did away with some of these forms, but where old ones died, new ones were invented. Today, many are disguised as protection against voter fraud and some forms of voter suppression have never died, like intimidation by threat or force. But I recently discovered that it’s one thing to read about voter suppression, and quite another to witness how it unfolds first hand.
As most of you know, the Covid-19 Pandemic hs delayed my move to Prague. Since being temporarily grounded I have been finding ways to keep mentally active and to otherwise use my time in limbo productively.
When my county sent out an appeal for election workers a few months ago, I saw an opportunity to challenge myself with a new learning experience, and, to have a hands on participatory part in the most important election of my lifetime.
After testing and training I was selected to work as a “laptop operator” at one of the 9 “one stop” early voting locations in my county which ran for a period of 17 days. My job was to process voters in the data base and to print their paper ballots. Of course I also had to deal with updates, inactive voters, absentee ballots, and sometimes simply explaining to people how to mark the ballot. But my favorite part of the job was registering first time voters who could then immediately cast their ballot.
Living in a University town, as you might imagine, most of the voters I registered were young college students. Some were quiet and shy, others excited or nervous, all were polite and respectful. What you might not imagine is how complicated the process was to get them registered. The most difficult to process were those students who lived off campus and were from other counties and states. Besides a photo I.D. (school I.D.’s do not include addresses) they had to produce a document, from an approved list, that showed their current name and address together in our county. The state accepts utility bills, bank statements, pay stubs and government issued documents.
No student that I worked with had a utility bill in their name, only their parents’ name. Because they’re students they don’t work, so no pay stubs. They bank on-line and their accounts show their home-town address- as did every other acceptable government issued document like car registrations and passports. They don’t pay property tax or yet file taxes with the IRS so no luck there.
If you assume that learning to speak Czech is difficult- you would be right. I have been working at it for two years now and am finally getting the hang of it. In the introduction to one of my Czech textbooks, the author marvels at how the Czech people have managed to keep their language alive and well during so many occupations of their homeland. He comes to the conclusion that it is due to their “Secret National Defense System,”
….. their language!
“I imagine that Czech was so difficult for the foreign invaders that they were unable to interact in a meaningful way with the Czechs”… and so they… “eventually tired of not being able to communicate much of anything, to anyone, they left, leaving the culture unaffected.” (401 Czech Verbs by Bruce Davies and Jana Hejduková)
The most difficult part of the language is its system of 7 different Cases in which nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and most numerals change their endings according to the Case used. The Cases define the relationship between words in a sentence, ie. who or what is the subject, direct object, or indirect object, etc. (Word order is not necessarily important in Czech but is crucial in English) For instance, here are some spelling changes for the word: domawhich means home: “at home” is doma, “go home” jdi domů, “leave home” opustit domov, and “in the home” v domě.
On the flip side, Czech is a phonetic language, which makes it easy to pronounce and spell- unlike English with all its silent letters like: “k” in knee, “b” in climb, “h” in hour, “w” in answer, and “gh” in thought. But more about the history and structure of English in another Post…
Did You Know That Queen Elizabeth I Spoke 9 Languages Fluently?
“She possessed nine languages so thoroughly that each appeared to be her native tongue; five of these were the languages of peoples governed by her, English, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, for that part of her possessions where they are still savage, and Irish. All of them are so different, that it is impossible for those who speak the one to understand any of the others. Besides this, she spoke perfectly Latin, French, Spanish, and Italianextremely well.”
–Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, Venetian Ambassador 1603
People often speculate as to which language is the most difficult to learn, usually assuming it’s the one that they speak. But difficulty is all relative. Relative to how similar the language is to your own (grammatically and phonetically), how well you learn in general, and of course, how motivated you are to learn it, among other things.
That being said, I checked out the Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI) ranking of world languages based upon their level of difficulty for native English speakers. The FSI provides training for U.S. foreign diplomats, so I figured they would know. They have divided languages into 4 categories with Cat 1 being easiest and Cat 4 labelled as “exceptionally” difficult. No surprise that Spanish and French fall into Cat 1 and that Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are Cat 4. The bulk of the languages fall under Cat 3, which is where you will find Czech. (I won’t argue)
Of course, I am highly motivated to learn Czech as I plan to live and work in the country. But why should you learn to speak another language if you don’t plan to leave the U.S? Why should you be a polyglot (like Queen Elizabeth) and not a monoglot? Based upon my own experience, and with the help of Dr. Neel Burton, author of “ Beyond Words: The Benefits of Being Bilingual” (article appears in “Psychology Today” online July 2018), I would sum it up this way….
It enriches your life. As Dr. Burton points out,multilingualism is closely linked to multiculturalism. As we investigate and learn another language we naturally come to know and appreciate that culture. Your understanding, empathy, and compassion will expand.
It connects you to the world which is increasingly interconnected through the Internet and other technologies. Now more than ever before we travel, trade, and work with people and businesses around the world.
It’s good for your brain health. Learning a foreign language is a great brain exercise that increases gray matter. It works the part of your brain that handles executive functions like analysis, problem solving, working memory, multi-tasking and attention control.
But, I suppose, there is a fourth, and very simple reason to learn a foreign language- it’s fun! How cool is it to be able to talk with another person in a second language? In my next post I will talk about tips for language study that have helped me.
Dear Readers, do you speak a foreign language? What has been your experience with learning another language? I’d love to hear about your language journey.
“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’ Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’ Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin’ For This Old World Is Almost Gone”
Traditional- Attributed to, and Recorded by: Blind Willie Johnson (1928), Reverend Gary Davis (1956), and Mississippi Fred McDowell (1959) Like all Traditional songs, the lyrics vary between performers and in written versions
Lately I find myself singing this old gospel/blues tune a lot. It is based on a parable from the book of Matthew (25: 1-13) often called “The Parable of the Ten Virgins.”
The story goes that there were 10 bridesmaids awaiting the coming of a groom to escort them to a marriage feast. After being delayed, the groom finally arrives at midnight to collect them. (They are all sleeping due to the late hour) Five of the women have their oil lamps well supplied with oil ( and wicks trimmed!) and are ready to go with him. But the other five have to go out to the store to purchase oil for their lamps and so aren’t ready to go when the groom appears. As their “punishment” they are shut out of the wedding feast.
The parable is an admonition to “be ready” of course. It was a wildly popular religious theme during the Middle Ages as evidenced by its influence in Gothic art. Paintings and sculptures of the Ten Virgins decorate numerous churches and cathedrals all across Europe including Notre Dame in Paris and Reimes.
“Brother Don’t you Get Worried Brother Don’t You Get Worried Brother Don’t You Get Worried For This Old World Is Almost Gone”
“Sister, Don’t You Stop Prayin’ Sister, Don’t You Stop Prayin’ Sister, Don’t You Stop Prayin’ For This Old world Is Almost Gone”
The most practical thing I’ve been doing is to continue learning the Czech language so that when I finally do arrive in Prague, I won’t be a total beginner. I’m also sorting through my best teaching materials and digitizing them (since I can’t travel with reams of paper), as well as creating new lessons from ideas I’ve had for a long time but have never had free time to develop. As any teacher knows, putting all this together is extremely time consuming and virtually impossible to do when you are actually teaching!
But let me be quick to add that while these activities are my ideal, I often fall short. My self-expectations turn into merely good intentions and I feel a lot like the woman in the picture above…….too tired to care where I last left my lamp.
Dear Readers, what have you been busy doing? How have you, and how are you keeping your lamp trimmed and burnin’? I’d love to hear from you.
“Due to recent Government cutbacks, The Light At The End Of The Tunnel has been turned off.”
I laughed out loud the first time I read this clever quip painted on a small plaque in a Hallmark store. But in today’s Pandemic environment, these words have the sting of truth about them and they’re not so funny. When every daily event, and all future plans must be filtered through the reality of the Coronavirus, with no end in sight, it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
As most of you know, for the last two years I have been working to bring a dream to fruition— to move to Prague and teach English. What you don’t know is how close I came to realizing my dream before the Pandemic struck. Last November I went to Prague for two weeks, had two job interviews, and got two job offers. My plan was to move there in June of 2020. Now I’m in indefinite limbo with no idea as to when the light will reappear at the end of that tunnel.
There are only two real responses to finding yourself in a darkened tunnel. You can scream and curse the darkness, ( all the while eating too much and “doom scrolling” online until you create for yourself an inert depression.) Or, you can stumble your way forward into the darkness with no assurances about what lies ahead.
Literally speaking, the human eye requires very little light to see in the darkness, even the dimmest of starlight will do. When confronted with darkness, our eyes automatically adjust. The pupils expand to let in more light and a transition occurs in our light sensing cells from the use of cones, which see color and detail, to rods that give us our night vision. The whole process only takes about 20 minutes to be at full capacity.
Now, if only the darkness of mind and spirit adapted as quickly or as easily! If you are like me, you may find yourself alternating between determination and despair. Most days I’m hopeful and productive, but some days I am too despondent to even try to accomplish anything. While contemplating my (our) current dilemma, I remembered this poem by Emily Dickinson that perfectly articulates our struggle to adapt to this new reality that we find ourselves in.
We grow accustomed to the dark—
When Light is put away—
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye—
A Moment—We uncertain step
For newness of the night—
Then—fit our Vision to the Dark—
And meet the Road—erect—
And so of larger—Darknesses—
The Evenings of the Brain—
When not a Moon disclose a sign—
Or Star—come out—within—
The Bravest—grope a little—
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead—
But as they learn to see—
Either the Darkness alters—
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight—
And Life steps almost straight.
I try not to be too hard on myself during these uncertain times, and I suggest you do the same. Eventually, either the darkness will alter or our sight will adjust itself. Of course, things won’t be the same post Pandemic, but we will all find our equilibrium again, and Life will step “almost straight.”
Dear Readers, have you found yourself in a darkened tunnel of late wondering when the light will be turned on again? If so, I’d love to hear how you’ve been coping.
The writer has made an attempt to draw the hammer and sickle, the symbol of solidarity between the peasant farmers and the industrial working-class- first adopted during the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Every day as I tromp up the stairs of the parking garage returning to my car after teaching, my foot falls on this message written on one of the step landings. I often wonder about the stranger who wrote it and why? Was he or she in need of an encouraging word at the end of every day in order to come back to work the next? A reminder that their paycheck wasn’t the whole story?
After recently receiving my first pay check from my new teaching job, this message has been on my mind a lot. As most of you know, I am in the midst of pursuing a new career in teaching ESL. In case any of my readers are considering the same, I should make it abundantly clear that ESL is not a lucrative career. It is difficult to find anything more than part-time work here in the U.S. I teach a four hour class five days a week. I spend long hours of preparation for which I am not compensated. Class attendance is sporadic and within the same class I must adjust to students who are at multi-levels of English ability.
But still, the work is rewarding! Most of my students are appreciative and motivated, thanking me at the end of every class. Watching them with heads bent tackling a worksheet, I feel so proud of the effort they are making. It is the combination of our efforts that creates the payoff. The school doesn’t half compensate me for what I’m worth, so I have to seek the intangible wage. And I’m grateful to the mysterious encourager who scribbled these words on the step knowing that someone else needed a reminder of their true value at the end of every day as well.
“The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Unlike a motor boat, a sailboat cannot proceed directly into the wind. If that is its desired course, a sailing vessel must use the wind, allowing it to blow the ship from side to side, a maneuver called tacking. Thus progress forward is achieved by patiently and intentionally navigating a zigzag line.
As many of you know, my goal is to teach ESL in Prague, Czech Republic. My journey toward that end began by volunteer teaching and getting my TEFL certification last year. Now I’m tacking. I was offered a job teaching ESL at the Community College, and I started three weeks ago. I’ve signed a contract through December and fully expect to renew it in January for the spring term.
What may seem like a detour or delay is in reality an intentional tactical maneuver that I believe will propel me forward toward my intended destination. The experience and knowledge I’m gaining in my new teaching position will open doors to better job opportunities when I do make it to Prague. As much as I want to charge ahead, I know I will arrive at just the right time if I stay this course of the zigzag line.
Dear Readers: what has your life’s voyage been like? A motorboat, or a sailboat heading into the wind? Do tell.